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The Diamond of the Day Part 2 Review

merlin-series-5-finale-part-2-diamond-of-the-day-2Thanks to Merlin’s sorcery Camelot wins the battle of Camlann, but it’s a costly victory. In the aftermath, Merlin finally reveals his magic to Arthur…

… and then apparently lives until the 21st century where he goes hiking around Glastonbury as an old man. That was a peculiar and unforeseen final few seconds! But it’s good that Merlin ends with something unexpected and light-hearted because that sort of mischievous take on the legend has characterised the show from the start.

I was greatly moved by this. Not for the perfunctory confrontations between our heroes and villains – the important deaths felt rushed. But I loved it for its emotional content and for the time Arthur and Merlin spend together. Merlin’s touching revelation to the king and their subsequent last few hours alone almostjustifies the missed opportunity to give Mordred and Morgana a decent ending.

The battle picks up instantly from last week, with its shadowy 300-like vibe in the mountain pass, but this time they have the sorcerer Emrys to help them out. Finally he starts throwing around the kind of powerful lightning attacks we’ve wanted to see for ages! And it works: the Saxons are defeated and with his dragonlord powers Emrys is even able to send away Aithusa. From Merlin’s perspective the battle is triumphant and it’s a striking vision of him on the hillside casting bolts of magic against their enemies. We’re treated to yet more epic scenes as Emrys strides amongst the bodies of fallen knights and then carries his friend’s body out of the valley.

merlin-series-5-finale-part-2-diamond-of-the-day-6We’re barely six minutes in before the clash with Mordred. “You gave me no choice” is his only line tonight and it’s a considerable sadness that somebody we’d grown to think of as significant vanishes so quickly. It’s his blade that pierces Arthur but this is no grand final confrontation; Mordred gets no sense of vengeance on Kara’s behalf. Both this and Merlin’s final stab at Morgana are underwhelming, swift resolutions which make me think, “Was that it?” To her credit, Katie McGrath gives a great performance in her few short scenes, shrieking, “I want him dead!” Morgana manages to dispatch Gwaine with the Nathair but I can’t help feeling that the sub-plot with Eira is a distraction. Percival and Gwaine get to chop up some Saxons but the scene of their captivity in the forest just delays Morgana getting to Arthur – but not by much.

The real meat of this episode is Merlin and Arthur having the conversation they should have had for years. It begins with them revealing how much they care about each other (Arthur’s cry of “Where have you been?!”), continues with Arthur’s revelation that he is the sorcerer Emyris (which Arthur is shocked by and initially rejects, partly because he’s stung that he’s been lied to) and ends with acceptance and restored comradeship… just in time for the king’s departure. Merlin’s tearful confession that he’s the sorcerer as they lie on the ground is excellent and reminds me once again how lucky we’ve been with Colin Morgan in the lead role. Although Arthur’s initial reaction is bafflement and, briefly, rejection, their long-established friendship wins out. It’s a subtle turning point when Arthur starts to joke with Merlin again: “So you’re not an idiot – that was another lie!” He realises that Merlin hasn’t sought any credit for what he’s done over the years and fondly says, “I don’t want you to change, I want you to always be you.” It seems a full reconciliation has occurred, especially when he apologises for how he treated him and thanks him. I can’t be the only one with a lump in my throat as Arthur’s dying body drifts away from Merlin on the boat.

So despite the odd pacing, the characters get an emotional resolution of sorts – even the Great Dragon – and the scenes with Arthur and Merlin are heartbreaking. It’s hard to believe this is the same show that gave us farting goblins or Lady Catrina the Troll. It’s gone on a tremendous journey from light-hearted teatime romp to something darker and more poignant. We’ll miss it.

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The Diamond of the Day Part 1 Review

merlin-The-Diamond-of-the-Day-part-one-1Arthur marches to Camlann to face Morgana’s army head on; but Merlin can’t join him because he’s lost his powers. Can the Crystal Cave restore them in time?

So, Merlin’s most powerful form is old man Emrys? It’s hardly like changing into a Superman outfit. An unexpected end to a dark, thoughtful episode. In terms of giving him the traditional appearance of Merlin at the final battle I can understand why, and perhaps Merlin choose this disguise because as far as he knows Arthur’s still unaware of his magic. But it doesn’t feel like Merlin’s authentic form and it’s hardly a punch-the-air badass moment to end on.

In keeping with the recent run, this is a solid Merlin tale with some superb touches that just stops short of being amazing; despite some sharp ideas and splendid performances (Colin Morgan sobbing while trapped in the cave, for instance) it doesn’t quite go far enough, although we gain an insight into how much the king values him. And Arthur gives a rousing speech which isn’t quite Henry V but which is nevertheless better than many such morale-boosters – for instance the undercooked one at the end of Snow White And The Huntsman earlier this year.

Merlin without magic is an interesting concept, but it serves little purpose except to separate him from Camelot for a time and create an excuse for a pep talk. And it begs the question, why does Morgana go to this trouble to take Merlin’s magic? Surely it would be easier just to kill him? Or expose him so that Arthur has to reject him? Once again Morgana’s plan is too complicated. When she catches up with him she just traps him in the Crystal Cave instead of finishing him off. She’s like the worst kind of Bond villain.

merlin-The-Diamond-of-the-Day-part-one-4But the episode does hang together. Isn’t it creepy to see Mordred at the right hand of Morgana’s throne? He doesn’t look overly happy with his new mistress’s methods; his face betrays him (I’m going to miss Alexander Vlahos when this series is over) and even challenges her: “He was a loyal soldier – in robbing him of his magic you’ve lost yourself a powerful ally.” It’s terrific to see Morgana using some properly ground-shaking magic like that fireball spell. In comparison we see Merlin, um, create a butterfly in his hands like a parlour trick, but at least there’s more than just the classic air punch this time.

The tender heart of this episode is, as always, Merlin’s relationship with Arthur. About 19 minutes in there’s a touching farewell scene between the two of them as Merlin reveals he has to go on an errand instead of join the battle. The emotion on their faces reveals a degree of heartbreak as Arthur realises Merlin won’t be there, and Merlin can’t reveal how much he’s actually trying to help. The king confesses that he never meant all those jokes he made at Merlin’s expense: “I always thought you were the bravest man I ever met” he tells his servant. This is a sad day for the bromance and a bit harsh from Arthur – if he truly has admired Merlin in the past and if he genuinely does trust him then he should have faith that Merlin’s “chore” is important.

The final moments of the episode, with the two armies clashing by torchlight, demonstrates that Merlin is still capable of giving us epic fantasy battles. And we only have to wait 48 hours for the conclusion! Start the countdown…

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PS. Just a little thing, yesterday (December 22nd) was merlininfo’s 2nd aniversary. Ok nobody cares.

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The Drawing of the Dark Review

merlin-511-The-Drawing-of-the-Dark-8Even though the whole set-up at Camelot is preposterous, I still enjoyed this episode overall. It has great atmosphere and momentum – but Mordred’s descent into evil is too rapid and it happens because of a dead lover; I would have preferred it to spring from the long-simmering mistrust between him and Merlin. I was hoping that secretly he was harbouring some druidic plan, but no: he was a genuine good guy until his childhood sweetheart tries to kill the king. Feels like a bit of a cop out.

And then there’s the whole conundrum of Arthur being the enemy of the druids in the first place. Sure, he told the Disir that he wouldn’t authorise magic in Camelot… but we haven’t actually seen him commit any of the same atrocities as his father – in fact, this series we’ve seen him rescue a woman who was going to be burned by the public; he tells Dolma that he will consider accepting magic; he makes druid Mordred a knight of the Round Table; he’s openly used magic to save Gwen and made it clear that his problem with magic is only when Morgana uses it for ill. This episode he tries his best to be merciful, offering Kara a chance to save herself – and as he clearly states, she wasn’t on trial for being a druid, she was on trial for murder. Arthur is at great pains to point out that “I have no quarrel with the druids” and that he’s always thought of them as peaceful. So where, exactly, is Kara’s evidence that her people are under threat from him?

merlin-511-The-Drawing-of-the-Dark-5These nitpicks aside, however, it’s a well-crafted, moving, tense episode that sets us up for a gripping end to the series. Alexander Vlahos as Mordred is wonderful in this episode. The confrontations with Merlin (“Everything I do you think the worst!”) are gloriously tense and you sense the frustrations that have been building between them since “Arthur’s Bane”, but his performance goes up a notch again when he’s trying to reconcile his love of Kara with his service to Arthur. He seems genuinely horrified when Kara – portrayed as quite a vicious character, presumably so that the audience don’t sympathise with her too much – slashes a guard’s throat with a dagger. And you can’t help but be moved by Mordred crying in his cell as Kara is hanged – moments before he blows the doors of in a pretty powerful display of magic.

The moral grey areas the characters are trying to deal with, the high stakes (have we actually seen a character hang before?) and the darker tone make this compelling. And with Mordred finally driven to the dark side, tonight’s ending gives us the long awaited reveal to Morgana that Merlin is Emrys! Whatever happens now there’s no going back from that.

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The Kindness of Strangers Review

Now that the Brainwashed Gwen arc is concluded, the series feels like it’s picking up momentum. This episode a minimal plot but it works tonally – it feels like is has purpose and a consistent atmosphere. The last few episodes have featured clumsy flights of comedy which, for me, have caused the pacing to stumble but this week even the lighter moments work as part of the whole – the tension has been taken up a notch (Morgana in particularly is more callous than before and there are at least three nasty deaths this week). Plus we see the great dragon… for possibly the last time? Stirring stuff.

At first, the episode feels like it’s recycling stories. We’re offered the return of Alator the Catha and Morgana threatens him with the Nathair serpent (she last used it on Sir Elyan in series four). They’re nice nods to previous Merlin lore but by the time Gaius has warned that it’s a trap as usual it feels – just for a moment – like this might all be way too familiar. Fortunately it soon developers a darker edge and the character dynamics are unexpected and very watchable.

The relationships and loyalties seem more sophisticated than usual. It’s interesting to see Gaius feeling guilty about revealing to Alator that Merlin is Emrys (series four) and thus betraying Finna to Arthur. Much of this episode is about the relationship between Gaius and Merlin – there are touching reminders about how Gaius is Merlin’s father-figure, instructor and confidant, as he shares words of comfort and even a hug. Merlin quite readily forgives Gaius for giving up Finna to the king because he knows it was done with the best of intentions. But it means that Merlin is forced to fight against Camelot’s knights in the forest. Later on, when he sneaks away from them in the forest, Mordred offers to lie for him. The mutual distrust between them is fascinating and we have to ask, is Mordred genuinely trying to help? Finna confirms that Mordred is dangerous to Arthur…

merlin-510-promo-pics-5On the face of it, Finna does very little except to repeat warnings like that and to give Merlin the parchment that asserts the druidic prophesy about Arthur’s doom. (I notice there’s no further mention of Arthur being his own “bane”, as in the opening two-part story this year.) But her character adds to the sense of an unfolding destiny and serves to deepen the series’ mythology. We have to ask ourselves, why do magic users like Alator and Finna care so much about Arthur’s reign given that he’s an enemy of sorcery? Although her time in Merlin is brief, Finna does have a great exit, giving her life to keep Merlin from Morgana; when she asks for Merlin’s sword you assume it’s for defence but she actually commits suicide rather than give up our young hero. It’s not every Saturday evening family show that features hara-kiri is it?

It’s also sad to realise that we are bidding farewell to Kilgharrah the dragon. I almost cheered when he swoops down and saves Merlin, and there’s a glorious moment where he’s silhouetted against the moon, but then we learn that he’s old and his wing’s injured and his time is running out. We’re given very little time to feel the weight of melancholy though because in the final moments a dead knight is brought in and we’re given to understand that “Morgana has declared war.” Fingers crossed next week’s episode, the last before the two-part conclusion, continues with the portentous ambience established here.

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With all my Heart Review

Amerlin-509-with-all-my-heart-pics-5rthur learns about Guinevere’s treachery and, on Gaius’s advice, kidnaps her and takes her to a sacred lake in order to break the spell. Merlin pretends to be an old woman so he can help.

So that was the resolution of the Evil Guinevere mini plot arc? I’m glad it’s over so Camelot’s story can move forward and in many ways tonight’s episode was exciting with a couple of terrific performances. But it tries far too hard to be “fun” (enough with the comedy music please!) and it fails to satisfy logically, forcing our heroes to act in odd ways depending on the needs of the scene.

Perhaps knowing that the audience has been waiting for a big reveal, the episode refuses to do the expected. We learn that Merlin has told Arthur about Gwen’s treachery in the first few moments (hell, it was in one of the BBC’s promo clips) and it’s a dark, tense little scene. About 14 minutes in it looks like Gaius is going to reveal that Merlin is Emrys but instead he says, “I have chosen… a woman!” These moments actually give the episode some momentum – with the threat of revelation removed we can sit back and enjoy seeing how things unfold. In the past we’ve been frustrated that Arthur and Gaius don’t listen to Merlin despite our hero uncovering a million plots in Camelot – this time, though, there’s no messing about; everybody believes Merlin right from the start. And when Merlin is concerned that somebody is watching them and Arthur says “One of your funny feelings again?” that’s clearly enough for him this time. A small but significant sign of Merlin’s continuing growth in Arthur’s esteem?

And yet later Arthur completely forgets that the Dolma is supposed to have taken Merlin hostage! It’s bizarre that one minute Arthur would be prepared to literally leap off a cliff in search of his fallen friend, but half an hour later doesn’t even notice he’s not there. The showrunners are obviously playing it for laughs at this point, but it just comes across as random and unnecessary. There are other examples of this. One minute Arthur is entrusting Merlin with drugging the queen, the next he’s putting in his place (“you’re the servant!”). It could just be meant as examples of the comfortable banter between the two of them, but other characters suffer convenient memory loss too: when Mordred confronts Morgana she says, “My quarrel isn’t with you Mordred!” Really? He stabbed her in the back and left her for dead then joined her sworn enemies on the Round Table, didn’t he? That’s cool now, is it? Meanwhile old Emrys, a character played for laughs the last time we saw him, is as serious as a schoolmaster when he confronts the Dochraid – he resorts to swordplay instead of sorcery and gives the old crone a couple of flesh wounds. Am I the only one who thought it was out of character for Merlin to respond so aggressively? Especially to somebody of the Old Religion, former ally of Morgana or not.

merlin-509-with-all-my-heart-pics-2And part of the inconsistency this week comes from the mixed attempts at comedy. Gwen falling face first into a plate of bread seems out of place in a plot that is otherwise so dark. And then there’s Merlin as Dolma, the sorceress. It’s a funny idea, I guess, and it’s important to recognise Colin Morgan’s great voice acting, but this ancient sorceress shtick borders on parody. Merlin dragging up and sweeping his hair out of his eyes from time to time feels very pantomime. And is anybody there really falling for it? When he disguises himself as Emrys at least he has a beard to help the deception. Dolma just looks like Merlin in a black dress.

But Dolma does give Arthur a nudge towards reconsidering the role of magic. In an episode where Arthur has already accepted, while plotting with Gaius, that sometimes you need to fight sorcery with sorcery, it’s significant that Arthur opens his ears to the idea that magic can be used for good.

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Merlin to cast his final spell

It was announced today that the current series of Merlin will be the last as BBC One’s hit show reaches a spectacular conclusion this Christmas. The epic family fantasy drama will bow out with a special two-part finale, as this unique re-telling of the Arthurian legend reaches its natural and dramatic end – it’s not to be missed!

Merlin has been enthralling audiences on Saturday nights over last five years, consistently attracting an average audience of over six million viewers, with ratings for the current series peaking at 7.1 million.

Merlin has been a firm favourite with BBC One viewers since its first outing in 2008. Celebrated for its magical storytelling, cinematic visual effects and most of all the wonderful cast which includes Colin Morgan as Merlin, Bradley James as Arthur Pendragon, Katie McGrath as Morgana, Angel Coulby as Guinevere, Anthony Head as Uther Pendragon, Richard Wilson as Gaius, and John Hurt as the voice of the Great Dragon.

Co-creators and executive producers, Johnny Capps and Julian Murphy, confirm the current series will be the last: “This is the series where the storylines truly reach their apex. We always felt the story of the legend was best told across five series, leading to a spectacular finale that draws on the best known elements of this much-loved story and brings to a conclusion the battle for Camelot.

“We’d like to thank the amazing cast and crew for their professionalism and dedication, the BBC, FME and all of our partners globally for their incredible support and encouragement across the last five series.

“But chiefly, our thanks go to Merlin’s remarkable and loyal audience around the world for their enthusiasm for the characters and Camelot universe.”

Danny Cohen, Controller, BBC One, said: “Merlin’s mix of magic, adventure and humour quickly became a hit with BBC One audiences and has continued to thrill families over the last five years on Saturday nights. I admire the creators’ decision to end Merlin on a high, but also know that we will miss it in the BBC One schedule.

“On behalf of BBC One I would like to thank Shine and all those involved in the making of the show both on and off screen. I hope fans will tune in over the coming weeks to see the spectacularly dramatic final episodes, and we have ambitious plans for new drama in the Saturday evening slot in 2013.”

Colin Morgan (Merlin) said: “From the beginning this was always going to be a five year journey that we embarked on and I think the show has run its natural course. The show has grown and grown each year and now we’ve arrived at its strongest point and we’ve achieved what we set out to do… I know this is the end, and I know this is goodbye, but thank you for being there on the journey with us because it has been a lot of fun!”

Bradley James (King Arthur) said: “The Merlin years have provided me with fond memories, great experiences and beloved friends and all the while we were supported by a devoted fan base who made the show a unique, surreal and special experience. My words won’t do justice to the honour of being King Arthur so I shall just say that it has been an exceptional one and that knowing the show has been a part of so many people’s lives, has been humbling.”

Katie McGrath (Morgana) said: “I have always said the success of the show has stemmed from our audience being able to relate to the characters on different levels – being based on the universally loved Arthurian legend is only a tiny part of its success – it’s a story about acceptance and growing up. The breathtaking finale of this series leaves you with no doubt that characters have been on their journeys and had their stories told – it’s completely the right time to draw our telling of the story to a close.”

Angel Coulby (Guinevere) said: “It has been a very special and memorable five years making Merlin. I feel extremely proud to have been part of such a brilliant show and such a great team. I think we’ve told the story we set out to tell, which ends with the fantastic two-part finale by the way! I believe the key to any successful show is making sure you leave people wanting more!”

Richard Wilson (Gaius) said: “Firstly, I would like to say that I’m extremely sad that Merlin has come to an end. Speaking as Gaius, I feel I have mentored the young wizard as far as I can – he is much smarter and greater than me now and I am simply exhausted!”

Other memorable cast include Mordred (Alexander Vlahos) and the brave Knights of the Round Table Sir Leon (Rupert Young), Sir Percival (Tom Hopper), Sir Gwaine (Eoin Macken) and the late Sir Elyan (Adetomiwa Edun).

Merlin has attracted an astounding array of guest stars including Michelle Ryan, Santiago Cabrera, Emilia Fox, Asa Butterfield, Mackenzie Crook, Adrian Lester, Warwick Davis, Miriam Margolyes, Eddie Marsan, Will Mellor, James Cosmo, Lindsay Duncan, Janet Montgomery, James Fox, Tom Ellis, Nathaniel Parker, Michael Cronin, Charles Dance, Gemma Jones, Sarah Parish, Miranda Raison, Ben Daniels and John Lynch.

Across five series writers Julian Jones, Jake Michie, Lucy Watkins, Howard Overman, Ben Vanstone and Richard McBrien have taken the characters on a spectacular journey.

Series five opened to a Camelot at the height of its ‘golden age’, but a menacing omen overshadows Arthur’s future and unknown threats emerge from within the castle walls. Now everything Merlin has tried to protect is in danger. Albion’s dark trial has begun and the final battle has been joined, but who will survive?

Do not miss the last ever episodes and the dramatic conclusion of Merlin on BBC One, Saturdays at 8pm.

Merlin is executive produced by Johnny Capps and Julian Murphy for Shine Television, with Bethan Jones executive producer for BBC Wales. The series is a BBC Cymru Wales Production and was commissioned by Ben Stephenson, Controller BBC Drama Commissioning and Danny Cohen, Controller BBC One.

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The Hollow Queen Review

Apart from filling in some gaps in what has happened to Morgana (at last we find out who was holding her) and giving Merlin a chance to get out from Arthur’s shadow, this episode does surprisingly little in terms of the continuing plot arc. At the end we’re left back where we were before – if you forgot to watch this episode you probably wouldn’t have any trouble picking up the thread again next week. Those hungry for a substantial reveal will not be content, unless that tiny morsel of Morgana backstory satisfies. It also introduces but kills off two great new characters and falls back on the old trick of knocking a character out of action (in this case Merlin) due to poison and sickness.

Nevertheless there are some superb moments in it, the strands of conspiracy and betrayal adding a delightful tension; and I’m genuinely pleased that we’re getting some information about what happened to Morgana. The Sarrum of Amata “once had her under lock and key” and admits “I kept her, like an animal”. The baby dragon, who Merlin discovered was unwell back at the start of the series, was “crippled and twisted” because it had to grow inside the Sarrum’s pit. It’s a gross but moving detail and the Sarrum seems to revel in it.

Other characters are evolving too, albeit much more subtly. Arthur’s role as king is now more layered, with him having to deal with a cruel regime in order to meet his political goals – even Gaius observes that Arthur’s becoming quite the diplomat and statesman. Meanwhile Merlin’s growing importance is revealed by the fact that Morgana realises she has to get rid of him in order to overthrow Camelot. 

Ah, Gwen. After last week’s murderous activities the queen remains on villainous form. It’s chilling to see her smirking from an upper window as Arthur is bested during training and again when she says to the Sarrum, “I’d be happy if he died tomorrow…” I think Angel Coulby’s character is more interesting when she’s like this. She seems more determined and forthright and kinda charming when she’s not just being an adjunct to Arthur. But the convenient shooting of Amata’s king frustratingly ties up the loose end of their collaboration.

It’s fun to witness Merlin away on a solo mission and out in the wild and what we see this week is a return to the badass who killed Agravaine last year. By the end of this episode he has a purpose and a mission again, and we’re in no doubt that he will be ruthless in its execution. We’re treated to an awesome moment when Merlin lets loose his sorcery on the bandits. (“You don’t even have a sword.” – “I don’t need one.”) and once back in Camelot he actually strikes the would-be assassin down dead. Colin Morgan’s final look, that scene at the end in the royal couple’s chamber, says he means business; surely a confrontation with Gwen is coming.

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